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Sales Jobs Falsely Positioned as Marketing, Public Relations and Advertising (An Update)

October 17, 2013 2 comments

Earlier I wrote about some companies in the West Michigan area that attempt to recruit young professionals into direct sales jobs by positioning those jobs as careers in advertising, marketing and public relations.  To clarify my position – I have nothing against sales as a vocation.  I have family members and friends that work in sales.  What I take issue with is recruiting people under false pretenses.  Though Sales and Marketing work hand-in-hand, saying a job in Sales is the same as a job in Marketing is like saying a Comptroller is the same as a Firefighter.

“Marketing” is a word that has been bastardized (and is frequently used interchangeably with Public Relations and Advertising).  True “marketing” requires that an organization have control of the “Marketing Mix” or the “Four P’s”: Product, Price, Place and Promotion.   Direct sellers do not control any of those things (save occasionally the promotion).

If anyone is unclear on the difference between Sales and Marketing, here’s an excerpt from an article by Dorie Clark in the Harvard Business Review that outlines the larger difference:

“Recognize the difference between marketing and sales. There’s often a lot of confusion about marketing and sales. Indeed, many executives have both in their titles — where does one discipline end and the other begin? Here’s my quick definition: marketing is what you do to make clients come to you, while sales is about you reaching out to them and closing the deal. They’re both important and complementary — the former is longer-term and creates a valuable pipeline for the coming months and years; the latter is what’s going to help you make payroll next week. Ideally, your company should have a strong mix of both to keep your cash flow balanced; if not, you’re going to have to adjust accordingly.” – (2012), “Marketing for the Extremely Shy,” Harvard Business Review 

In a more specific, occupational sense, jobs in Advertising/PR/Marketing almost universally require college degrees whereas jobs in Sales almost universally do not.

Why this practice concerns me is that it stands to negatively affect the careers of young professionals.  This entry level work in sales will not readily translate into experience that a future employer at an actual Marketing, Advertising or PR agency would value in a hiring decision.

Here are a sampling of some misleading job descriptions I was just able to find today with a quick Google search, including jobs from another company I haven’t seen before falsely selling itself as doing “marketing” – T.E.M. Inc.  :

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Other companies that fit this model include:

– Craig James, Inc. (Glassdoor Reviews)
– Prospect Solutions, Inc (Glassdoor Reviews)
– MLM Sports Marketing
– Excel Enterprises
– Excel Marketing
– Eminence Management

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Case Study Update: Family Promise GR Receives Toyota Truck

October 27, 2012 Leave a comment
Family Promise GR Receives Toyota Truck

Family Promise Director Cheryl Schuch, right, accepted a ceremonial key for the program’s new pickup truck at Toyota of Grand Rapids Thursday. (Photo courtesy of Michael Croff)

I was fortunate to work with a great team of people who helped Family Promise of Grand Rapids win Toyota’s “100 Cars for Good” competition this year (a full case study is available here).  Yesterday, the organization took receipt of the car which was another great public relations opportunity from the competition (which has given the organization a great platform to reach more members of the community).

West Michigan charity takes delivery of Toyota truck it won through Facebook contest
By Jim Harger | Grand Rapids Press | on October 26, 2012 at 11:49 AM

GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Family Promise of Grand Rapids took delivery of its new Toyota Tundra pickup this week thanks to its success in Toyota’s 100 Cars for Good competition earlier this year. (More)

How Not to Handle Controversy You Invited Upon Yourself – ArtPrize at The BOB

September 20, 2012 Leave a comment

ArtPrize Controversy at The BOB

As ArtPrize opens in Grand Rapids, an actual controversy has finally broken out.

It’s not the usual controversy (ie art snobs being upset that “commoners” are allowed to express opinions on what constitutes “good art).  It’s actually controversy over work considered to be obscene. Read more…

A PR Pro’s Plea to TV Journos – Don’t go Geraldo Like WWMT

January 25, 2012 3 comments

WWMT Pulls a Rivera

A colleague of mine recently had an unfortunate experience with WWMT Channel 3 here in West Michigan.  One of their reporters burst into the offices of Patriot Solutions with cameras rolling and accusations flying.

It offers a “teachable moment” to point out two problems I see public relations professionals encounter with their counterparts in the news media:

Problem 1 – Not Doing One’s Homework

The basis of the investigation is that Patriot Solutions is classified as a “service-disabled, veteran-owned company.”  WWMT noted that the disability rating of the owners is “0 percent,” so they are alleging some sort of fraud.

The problem is, as the National Veteran-Owned Business Association could readily tell you, having a “0 percent” disability doesn’t mean that a veteran wasn’t disabled as a result of their service to their country.  What it means is that their disability is not at a “compensable level” – meaning it doesn’t “substantially [limit] one or more major life activities.”

So, for example, a veteran could have a “0 percent” disability rating if they suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder but are able to make it to work every day and lead a relatively normal life despite suffering from mental health issues.

Problem 2 – Asking Questions One Knows Can’t be Answered

What WWMT did with their ambush interview was put Patriot Solutions in an impossible position: every journalist worth his/her salt knows that any employer has to decline to comment on private personnel matters.  It’s against the law – employees have privacy rights.  Same with patients; showing up at a hospital and demanding information on someone being treated is a HIPAA violation.  Further, the same is true of students; their privacy is protected by FERPA.

Veterans of the Marine Corps and the Army (which the owners of Patriot Services are) deserve respect and fair treatment as much as all other citizens (if not moreso).  What WWMT essentially did was attack these individuals during business hours and demand that they cough up sensitive, personal medical information because its reporter doesn’t know how to use the  Google Machine.

Dick move, WWMT.  Dick move.  Hopefully they do the right thing and nix the piece before they do more damage.

Case Study: Kids’ Food Basket “Toyota 100 Cars for Good” Social Media Campaign Results

August 24, 2011 1 comment

Andrew Zimmern Retweets Adrienne Wallace's Appeal for KFB

As promised, here is the analysis of the social media campaign used to help win Grand Rapids-based nonprofit Kids’ Food Basket a much-needed delivery truck from Toyota’s “100 Cars for Good” campaign.

To show all the public relations majors out there that “Management by Objective” isn’t just an esoteric concept you memorize in a PR 200 class and subsequently forget, I’ve framed the analysis of the campaign in terms of the “RACE” acronym (Research, Action, Communication, Evaluation). Read more…

For my Next Trick I Will Win a Truck Using Only the Power of Social Media

August 5, 2011 2 comments

Screen Shot of the 100 Cars for Good Voting Results Late in the Day

[Warning: the title of this blog post is entirely facetious.]

Kids Food Basket

One of my favorite charities in West Michigan, Kids Food Basket, may just have won a much-needed delivery truck to replace the one from their meager delivery fleet that died (the results aren’t in yet, but they were leading the vote count all day).  Many thanks go to Toyota which created the “100 Cars for Good” contest to not only give a bunch of highly-deserving nonprofits a chance to win a vehicle, but also raise their profile both locally and nationally.

Kudos to Toyota for putting together a first-rate publicity package for the entrants.  As most in the public relations world are aware, nonprofits are often at a significant disadvantage when it comes to promoting themselves because they’re not only challenged with resources, but staff time as well.

Toyota 100 Cars for GoodIt’s tempting to chalk up the success to the ethereal “power of social media” but in reality, it played a far smaller role than it appears on the surface.  Here’s what really was at play:

  1. A Great Product: it’s no accident that Kids Food Basket has exploded in popularity in West Michigan in the past few years – it’s a great organization with a great staff and noble aims.  The great outreach the organization has done to grow itself to the point where it now serves 5,000 students per day when school is in session is the single most important factor that made the promotional campaign for the “100 cars for good” campaign successful.
  2. A Great Community: I’m certainly not the first person to remark on the generosity that exists in West Michigan from the Kalamazoo Promise up to the gleaming buildings on Health Hill in downtown Grand Rapids.  Social media serves only as a convenient conduit to people who would drop what they’re doing to help virtually any good cause if asked even if it wasn’t via a Tweet.
  3. Great People: Like so many nonprofits, the staff of Kids Food Basket is packed with exemplary human beings who commit themselves totally to the cause.  They work long hours for meager pay because they love what they do and who they serve.  People like that are the best any institution can hope for, because they’re the kind of people who have deep and durable networks in the community which are exactly what you need to leverage for communications efforts like this.  Here’s why these people are so critical:
    1. They give enough regularly to be able to ask: You can’t ask for anything via social media unless you’ve given something to the people you’re asking.  In fact, the standard level of distrust means you have to give a whole lot to earn the right to ask.
    2. They’re established (and thusly believable): You can’t post this many requests for anything unless you’re well-established online as someone who is credible.  You’ll quickly be labeled a spammer.  Surprisingly, it’s pretty easy and fast to detect and ignore the fakers – remember, even computer algorithms can detect them.
    3. They’re willing to do the work (which also builds credibility): what this essentially means is that they use as few shortcuts as possible to get things done.  That means making as many individual, personalized messages as humanly-possible.  As we all know, people are far more likely to take action when asked to do so one-on-one.  Social media just lets you engage in that tried-and-true activity more quickly and without geographic barriers.

All of those pieces have to be in place for any social media campaign to work.  Those are the facts.  Anyone who promises you success regardless of your people and your product is lying to you.  No viral video, no search engine optimization, no iPad app, and no amount of bought followers can shine a turd.

Unfortunately there are plenty of Fauxcial Media experts ready and willing to do that – so caveat emptor.

If you want to know the details of precisely what plan we followed – I’ll detail those in a subsequent blog post.  As with any practical exercise in public relations, I gained a lot of valuable insights.

Public Relations – Why Relocate America’s Ranking of Grand Rapids Matters

August 3, 2011 Leave a comment

Spotlight on G-Rap

Recently, ReclocateAmerica.com ranked Grand Rapids as #2 on its “Top Ten Places to Live” behind Austin, TX.  Way cool, right?

Apparently not.  Both before and after the publication, three pieces have been written about how Grand Rapids shouldn’t be seeking external validation at all:

Salient quotes from the three articles (in order):

“Despite the reality of all our advances, whether replications of another city or other ideas that are completely our own, maybe we need to stop trying to make people love us and simply learn to love ourselves a bit more. When we focus so hard on what the world thinks of us by jumping up and down in a childlike manner, maybe we are saying, ‘Look at me, look at me, look at me.'”
– Tommy Allen

“But I would suggest to Tommy, and to everyone else, that he not lose the thread he tripped over – the idea that maybe we need to start by pursuing contentment in our own eyes and judging ourselves by our own measures.  For every top 10 we chase, for every passing mention on meaningless morning TV we crave, we need to ask ourselves how we could have, should have, turned that effort inward.”
– Stad diPonzi

“Halfway through reading that, I came down with a serious case of List Fatigue. The news here is that we got named one of America’s top 100 cities and then enough visitors to the site pushed Grand Rapids to No. 2. Which is cool, if this is the kind of validation you seek. […] Grand Rapids’ placement on this particular list appears, more than anything, to be an expression of pride on the part of various community members. Nothing wrong with that, of course. But does Grand Rapids, as “diPonzi” suggests, suffer in general from a disproportionate need for outside attention?”
– Troy Reimink

I think they’re missing the point.  Lists like these have little to do with validating our egos – they’re all about stimulating discussion about quality of life and promoting economic development.  What the lists do is provide away to include our city’s name in the national dialog.  The (perhaps unfair) reality is that sort of thing matters a great deal.  It’s an important part of public relations.

As writers like Dan Gardner have pointed out – the research shows that human beings make very important decisions (like where to live) based on irrational and limited information or perceptions.  The news and discussion generated by “top ten” lists like this is just the kind of data floating through the ether that attaches itself to peoples’ perceptions and drives decision-making.

If you don’t talk about yourself (or encourage others to) – it’s probably not going to happen.  So as distasteful, slimy, and decidedly un-Midwestern as it may be – we need to promote ourselves.  Everyone (even cities) could use a little self-aggrandizement.

After all, what is SXSW if not the city of Austin saying “Look at me, look at me, look at me!”  … and it works.

There’s a great analog to this in Grand Rapids’ ArtPrize Competition: though it publishes “top __” lists – that isn’t the point.  The point is to inject a discussion of the arts into the public consciousness, and in so doing – help promote and encourage all artists in the process.

I shouldn’t have to lecture three guys with published opinion columns about the importance of self-promotion. :-}